Tonight sees Groups E – H play their matchday 3 fixtures. Group F sees group leaders Bayern Munich travel to winless Arsenal and Dinamo Zagreb host Olympiakos. Bayern Munich currently sit top of the pile with a maximum 6 points from their first two games, Arsenal find themselves rooted to the bottom still looking for their first point. Zagreb and Olympiakos lie in 2nd and 3rd with three points apiece.
Tonight’s fixture between the Greek and Croatian champions is seen as pivotal to both side’s chances of progression. Going into tonight’s game both sides are in a strong position after picking up unexpected wins over Arsenal in the first two games. It will be hard to find anyone that doesn’t have Bayern down as the team to win the group and with Arsenal losing their first two games the group has certainly opened up with all to play for the 2nd and 3rd places. This double header between Dinamo and ourselves is vital to both of our European seasons. Should either side manage to take all six points then third place would be guaranteed, with the victorious side going into the final two games with Arsenal and Bayern knowing that they have the comfort of knowing that they don’t have to get a win. Should a side pick up a win and a draw, third place wouldn’t be guaranteed but would be likely. The losing side would have to pick up two positive results against the English and German sides and still hope the other results went the way. In short, it’s vital not to lose either of these games. Assuming you can write off the Munich games and presume neither side will pick up points in their matches with them (we obviously hope this isn’t the case and live in hope, but we have to be realistic in the fact that Bayern are probably the best side in Europe at the moment) it would come down to the remaining fixtures with Arsenal. Olympiakos have the slight edge over Zagreb in that instance. The Croatians have to travel to the Emirates to play their remaining game against Arsenal. Arsenal will be determined not to subject their home fans to another embarrassing home defeat as they did against us a few weeks ago. Arsenal need to travel to the Karaiskakis on the final matchday. Arsenal are still a magnificent side, despite their Europeans woes of this season, and will fancy their chances against most sides in Europe even away from home. Should it come down the final day and Oly needed a point or three to progress from the group then the vocal support of 30,000+ venomous Thrylos fans would be some obstacle for the Arsenal to contend with. However, it could be dangerous to look too far ahead. Should either Zagreb or ourselves be sat on nine points going into matchday 5 the results of the final two group games could be simply academical – what a privileged position that would be. Two wins and six points is the only thing on the menu from these match-ups.
Both sides go in to this evening’s matches on the back of convincing derby wins from their respective leagues this past weekend. Dinamo Zagreb were 4-1 winners against city rivals NK Zagreb. Chilean forward Junior Fernandes found the net twice during the match and promises to be a handful for the Thrylos defence. On Saturday night Olympiakos ran out 4-0 winners against fierce rivals AEK in the first derby between the two since AEK’s return to the Superleague. Zagreb have only lost once in their last 48 games across all competitions so confidence within that squad is understandably high. The Reds, however, go into this game in fine form themselves with seven wins from the first seven games played in the league. Both sides’ only defeat of the season have come at the expense of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. While tonight’s fixture in Zagreb may not catch the eye of the neutral across Europe, to those in the know this game has all the makings of a European classic. The players from Piraeus, however, will have to play the game with the added obstacle of not having the Thrylos faithful cheering them on. The two upcoming fixtures between the two sides have been made home fans only. The reason given for this away fans shut-out is because of a fear of crowd violence. Personally, this decision has disappointed and even angered me. There is no clear evidence that this fixture has any higher danger of trouble than any other Champions League fixture. The idea initially came from Dinamo, my own opinion is that the Croatians, in their quest to progress from the group for the first time, are looking to gain any slight advantage that they can in these upcoming fixtures. They know that were they to win tonight even with none of their own fans in Piraeus in two weeks they would still have an advantage as Olympiakos would have the added pressure of knowing nothing but a win would do. I may be wrong, but I doubt it, this is a dirty trick and quite frankly should not be allowed in European competition. Only in fixtures where there is genuine political or historical reasons to suspect violence should such measures be taken.
Luka Milivojevic is expected to return to the starting line-up tonight in the place of Esteban Cambiasso who is out with a calf injury picked up in training on Sunday. Marco Silva is also without Andreas Bouchalakis and long-term sufferer Giannis Maniatis. Some doubts remain over Manuel da Costa although he is believed to be in contention for a place, however, due to the recent form of Botia and Siovas is unlikely to start even if declared fit to play. Elsewhere Silva looks to have the luxury of his midfielders and forwards all being fit. Fortounis came on as a substitute for the final quarter of an hour in Saturday’s derby win and got two goals to his name, this could be enough to secure himself a starting place unless he opts for the set piece expertise of Dominguez. Seba and Pardo are expected to start on the wings as they did against Arsenal. Up front all three of the striking options are available for selection. Allan Pulido is yet to convince Silva, so it is extremely unlikely the Mexican will start. Finnbogason came on in the second half against Arsenal to score the winning goal, however, it seems in the early part of the season that Brown is Silva’s main man up front so is expected to start tonight.